Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Braille Phone

Indian designer creates Braille Phone, a smartphone for the visually impaired
A touch screen made of tiny, height-variable bumps allows users to 'feel' information — and brings printed and visual resources like maps and animations to life. 

A prototype display of Sumit Dagar's Braille smartphone.

Imagine a smartphone for the visually impaired. A phone that provides the same kind of game-changing tools that most sighted smartphone users have come to take for granted over the past few years.

Sumit Dagar has done more than imagine one. He’s created it.

An interaction designer and sci-fi short film maker from Delhi, India, Dagar describes himself as “insanely passionate” about design, and more so about design thinking. He created the Braille Phone with the express purpose of empowering India’s visually impaired population to overcome the many obstacles they face both in their careers and in their daily lives. (India is home to 22 percent of the world’s visually impaired population.)

The phone uses a haptic touch screen, which is comprised of a grid of tiny, height-variable bumps, allowing users to "feel" information. At its most basic level, the phone can be used as a translator — scanning text and converting it into braille — but that’s just the beginning.

Facilitating independence

Using height mapping, the phone can also display visual imagery, and even video and animation, not to mention maps, charts and other graphic forms of communication that are ubiquitous in modern life. The result is a device that could better facilitate independent travel for the visually impaired, and allow access to a much broader range of printed and visual resources that are readily available to the rest of the population.

The phone is currently being prototyped. As Dagar explains on his website, this prototyping is set to proceed much faster than expected, thanks to the recognition the project has received of late, not to mention a handy cash injection of $50,000 from a major innovation award:

“After several years of getting hands-on with design, these days I concentrate on building the Braille Phone and its family of devices. Rolex honored me with its prestigious Young Laureate award recently (December 2012), which means that I get to implement this project much sooner and with even more uber-features to play with.”

Rolex officials aren’t the only ones who have been taking note of Dagar’s work. He’s been featured in Fast Company, National Geographic and the Herald Sun of Australia, to name but a few media outlets. And his talk as a TED Fellow explaining the Braille Phone concept has been making waves around the world.